Friday, September 12, 2014

Intraregional visit participants in India see floating vegetable gardens on concluding day

Floating vegetable garden
Home nursery for vegetable seedlings
On the concluding day of the SATNET intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors in India (6 September 2014), the participants saw the floating vegetable garden technology bring promoted by Concern Universal and the Rashtriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi with technical support from Helvetas in selected districts of the state of Assam in northeast India. In the backdrop of climate change, this technology is especially relevant for food and nutrition security of vulnerable groups in flood prone areas. Water hyacinth, which is usually considered unproductive, is collected, beaten with sticks to form a floating bed, and allowed to decompose for 20 days. The bed of decomposed hyacinth is then used to grow vegetables which is otherwise not possible to do in the rainy season. Moreover, once the vegetable cultivation is over, the fertile decomposed water hyacinth material is compressed into compact balls and used for raising vegetable seedlings in a home nursery. The seedlings are then transplanted into the field once flood waters recede, thus reducing the time required to grow vegetables by around 20 days. Given its potential for addressing nutrition security, the floating vegetable garden technology was enthusiastically received by participants with in-depth interaction taking place with the local farmers. 

Low-cost vermicompost pit
At other sites visited on the day, the participants were given a practical demonstration of a low-cost innovation for making a Vermicompost pit. Usually a concrete pit is recommended, but this can prove expensive for farmers. The cost can be reduced by making a pit within a bamboo frame, enclosed from the sides and below with a sheet of plastic. Layers of organic matter, cow dung and soil are added in addition to earthworms. The compost created is very rich in nutrients. The liquid by-product obtained in the process is also good for soil application as a growth promoter.

Upon return to Delhi at the end of the day, a brief wrap-up session was conducted to obtain feedback from farmers and to award them certificates of participation. The participants highlighted the usefulness of the practical exposure they had gained as well as the learning about new ways of implementing existing processes. Organic farming practices and certification, preparation of bio-inputs for pest management and enhancing plant growth, and the floating vegetable garden technology were found to be particularly valuable. The participants committed to applying the knowledge gained for promoting sustainable agriculture in their own communities.    
Study tour participants visit Assam State in India in second stage of the tour

Participants of the SATNET intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors taking place in India began the second stage of the visit in Guwahati in Assam state in north-eastern India on day 4 (5 September 2014). It part of the visit is organized by CAPSA in partnership with Concern Universal and the Rashtriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi (a Guwahati-based NGO) which are implementing a European Union-funded project titled ‘Cross-border Transfer of Agricultural Technologies, Institutional and Market Development’. The project aims at improving food security and nutrition for vulnerable groups in border areas of India and Bangladesh.

Demonstration of bio-inputs
The participants visited an organic vegetable collection centre in Rangamatti village of Darrang district which is operated on a cooperative model by a group of women members. The centre aims to enable smallholders to better market their produce, both through traders as well as a local weekly vegetable market. Collective marketing can also help them to sell in bulk, better negotiate the selling price, and realize higher incomes. This initiative is complemented through training in organic cultivation practices provided through Local Service Providers (LSPs) for which the villagers pay a token amount.

Preparation of Bordeaux mixture
Pheromone trap for pest control
Subsequently, the participants attended a community meeting and demonstration in Barathekerabari village where they were shown various products and techniques for sustainable agriculture production. These included low-cost Pheromone Trap to control pests, enhanced compost making using bio-organic inputs available in the market, and health products made from banana tree stems. A step-by-step demonstration of preparing Bordeaux Mixture (a safe fungicide) was also given. During the demonstrations, participants also shared their experiences of using some of these techniques in their home countries.   

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sustainable technologies demonstrated to participants of SATNET intraregional visit in India

Insect light trap
On day 3 (4 September, 2014) of the SATNET intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors being conducted in India, the participants were given a detailed demonstration of innovative products and practices for pest control. These included preparation of a herbal pest repellent and a ginger, garlic and chilli solution, demonstration of an insect light trap, and a technique for rat control. All the products and practices showcased were simple and low cost, and can be implemented using locally available material.  

Participants at Kolungi ecological farm
A feedback session was held to wrap up the visit to the Kudumbam site in Tamil Nadu (first phase of the visit). During the session, the participants highlighted Integrated Pest Management and bio-control techniques, promotion of organic farming practices at the community level, and collection of traditional knowledge as among the key learnings. They emphasized that they would disseminate this knowledge to their communities upon returning home and showcase the innovative products and technologies they had seen. 
SATNET intraregional visit participants learn about participatory approaches and organic farming practices in India

Farmer field school session
Farmer field school discussion
On day 2 (3 September, 2014) of the SATNET intraregional Visit for Smallholder Value Chain Actors in South Asia which is currently ongoing in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, the participants took part in a hands-on Farmers Field School session on paddy cultivation. The objective of the session was to demonstrate participatory research aimed at finding community-driven solutions for sustainable agriculture. During the session, the participants divided into groups and conducted Agro Ecosystem Analysis in a paddy field along with local farmers. They noted parameters like type of soil, age, height and density of the plants, number of tillers, types of pests and farmer-friendly predators etc. The parameters were analysed by each group and recommendations for Integrated Crop Management were presented to the village community for deliberation and adoption. There was keen interest within the local community to adopt some of the recommendations from other countries (eg. transplanting paddy along with the soil that holds its root, and use of human urine as a pesticide). 

Preparation of Panchkavya
Later in the day, the participants were given a step-by-step demonstration for preparation of various bio-inputs such as Panchkavya (a plant growth promoter and bio-pesticide made from cow urine and other ingredients), vermicompost, and Azola (a bio-fertilizer). A low-cost method for selecting high quality paddy seeds was also demonstrated, to which one of the participants added his knowledge of seed selection for wheat. The demonstrations were performed by volunteers from amongst the visiting group to ensure better absorption of the knowledge.

Another interesting activity was the participants’ interaction with lead farmers from organic farmer groups in the area. As a result of Kudumbam’s outreach efforts, 500 local farmers across 50 farmer groups have now successfully received organic certification from INDOCERT – a certification company - enabling them to market their products in major cities for higher prices and even target export to other countries. Given that organic produce certification is still not available or is in nascent stages in many South Asian countries, there was strong interest amongst the participants in the certification process and Kudumbam’s strategy for adoption of organic farming at the community level. The certification process is based on the ‘Internal Control System’ where a farmer group is itself responsible for maintaining full documentation and monitoring of organic practices in addition to the assessment performed by the company.

At the end of the day, the visitors were shown a film made by Kudumbam showcasing the NGO’s efforts in establishing 400 acres of community forest in 11 villages to enable ground water recharging and improvement of soil fertility.